My head was cleared by an experience that I shared with 11 other people this weekend. 11 people who would all agree that they gained a fresh outlook on their own lives. 11 people who will all smile and have fond memories whenever they hear the word "RAGER" for as long as they live.
The Rager is a bicycle tour that was started three years ago when me and three of my friends decided to take a camping trip in Kent County, Michigan. We rode our bikes from Grand Rapids to Holland and stayed the weekend in a state park before biking back. It poured (and sleeted) on us the entire time and we were miserable. We were wet, cold, hungry, frustrated and we each cracked and went temporarily insane at different points. When we returned to our cars at the end of the weekend a strange thing happened. We felt empty. Looking back we realized that we had experienced something. There was absolutely NOTHING that happened over the weekend that we could appreciate, yet, here we were, driving home, feeling empty, wishing we were back on our bicycles and suffering in the rain together.
We decided we would do the trip every year. We moved it from September to July in hopes that we could avoid cold and wet weather and we created a facebook page for the event. We named it The Rager because of the ENORMOUS campfire that we built to try and stay dry and a tradition was born.
The 2nd year that we raged we went to the Leelanau Peninsula. The group had doubled in size and it was an amazing trip. Again, there were times when we struggled and we were not enjoying ourselves but when we got back to the car at the end of the trip, we knew we had done something special and we longed for a simpler life where everything we needed was strapped to the back of our bikes.
This year, rager hype was at an all-time high. 12 people signed up for the event. A three day, 120 mile tour of northern Michigan. We dubbed it 'The Tip of the Mitten Tour' complete with some of the most scenic cycling this state has to offer. The gang arrived in separate vehicles, unpacked and rager 2014 was underway.
We started the trip in Petoskey and headed north along the coast of Lake Michigan along a scenic route called 'The Tunnel of Trees'. Seeing this route on a bicycle is 100% the way to go. I cannot begin to describe how amazing of a ride it is. Some of the hills are brutal but you are rewarded with steep downhills and smooth roads. We stopped at a historic Polish restaurant called 'Legs Inn' for lunch and continued north to Wilderness State Park where we drank, laughed, played horseshoes and camped for the night. It was awesome to see all of these people that I knew getting to know each other for the first time. All good people, all realizing that they were surrounded by other good people. Biking brings out the best in people and being on an adventure creates a sense of community, a camaraderie, if you will.
The next day was spent riding mostly on a packed limestone surface known as 'The North Central Rail Trail'. Most of us agreed that the ride was miserable. Riding on a gravel surface for a few miles is fine but for 50 miles it is horrid. We took our time, had an extended lunch break in Cheboygan and arrived in Indian River around dinner time. The group got scattered over an area of 4-5 miles while riding the trail so we arrived, a few at a time, and started assembling our camp.
In the evening a series of severe thunderstorms greeted us with several inches of rain. Some of us ordered pizza and ate it under the shelter of the bathrooms while others biked out in the middle of a downpour to eat and drink at a local bar. It poured well into the night but we woke up to clear skies.
The final day was a short, 20 mile ride through Alanson and back to Petoskey. We took our time coming back. Our pace slowed down to a casual stroll and you could see in everyone's faces that they didn't want it to end. The beautiful scenery, the feelings of accomplishment, the relationships, and the disconnected feeling of being away from it all with nothing but a bicycle and some camping gear to keep you alive. You could tell we all wanted to go back and do it over and not take a single moment for granted.
When my car came into sight, I down-shifted for the final time and my chain popped off and totally trashed my back tire. A disaster that, if it had happened at any other point on the trip, would have rendered my bike useless and taken me out of the mix. On the drive home I thought about how someone out there was looking out for me. Sometimes you have luck and other times you have angels. This was clearly the latter.
12 people all signed up for what they thought would be an awesome bike tour where they would challenge themselves physically and get to see some great scenery. What they got instead was a sense of living. We spend a lot of time and resources trying to make ourselves comfortable and we often forget about the things that really matter in life. When you break away from those distractions and take a bicycle tour you become better connected with the finer things in life like friendship, laughter, fresh pressed coffee, and standing in the pouring rain without an umbrella. So, we took a step back and smelled the roses. We gained a new perspective on things, which is something that doesn't come easy these days.
I am using my fresh perspective to close the brick-and-mortar chapter of my life. The time has come. The Yum family is going fully nomadic. Thank you to everyone who raged with us this year. No matter what, we will be back to ride next summer and we will miss you all dearly.